Are you using RAG status ratings to full effect?

Project Failure

Do you know what RAG status ratings are? Maybe you haven’t heard them referred to in such a manner, and are more familiar with using ‘traffic lights’ to track the performance of your project. Visual cues are so much easier to understand than lengthy status reports, which is why so many project teams use the RAG (red, amber, green) system or something rather similar along the way.

However, the usefulness of this type of ratings system depends greatly on the ability of the project manager to assess and assign the correct status to each issue. The purpose of traffic lighting various project processes is to highlight progress and make it simpler to see when intervention is needed, so being able to use it effectively is crucial if you are going to use it at all.

Understanding RAG definitions is the first step to utilising this useful tool to its full potential.

  • Red

Red should only be used when there are significant issues with the project or the process it is allocated to. It can be used when one area of project viability such as scope, time or budget goes beyond the tolerance levels agreed at the start. Red signifies that the matter needs to be escalated to senior management for support immediately.

  • Amber

If you are suffering with a problem that is having a negative effect on the project performance or one of the project viability areas is close to the tolerance level, then an amber rating is appropriate. Usually amber problems can be dealt with within the project team, by the project manager and team members, although it is good practice to alert the project board or senior management to such issues.

  • Green

Green for go! Everything is functioning as expected and the project performance is as planned. All viability areas are well within tolerance levels and no action is needed.

Now you have a clear understanding of how the RAG statuses should be used, it’s up to you to put them into practice in an effective manner.

Using RAG status reports

The RAG allocation should be used sparingly and only for defined areas. Good places to use this function are things like scope, schedule, budget and overall project progress. The colour allocation should be accompanied by a clear and concise written report, highlighting to the board, senior management and / or project sponsor the reason for the colour allocation.

Problems tend to occur when the report becomes too lengthy or detailed. Including too much detail causes important issues to be missed, and can hinder taking action to resolve these problems. Keep things short, sweet and focussed to make the most of the RAG rating reports impact.

Another good technique when using the traffic light system is to report not only on the current situation, but to refer back to previous situations too. For example, weekly RAG reports could include a recap on last week’s RAG status too, so project sponsors and senior managers can see which direction things are moving in.

Do you use the RAG system for your projects? How useful have you found it?


  1. Rag status is a really useful way of sharing project status but often people resist setting a project to reflect the true status. They tend to stay green when the project is really heading towards red. Honest reporting is more important that staying in the green.


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